24 July 2008


I blame it on Dave's 20th Wedding Anniversary but I'm going to go where angels fear to tread and dare to offer just a few thoughts on marriage. Not a treatise, mind. And not a worked-out systematic theology. Just a few thoughts.

Why am I doing this? Well the post that Dave links to,
Will Positive Examples be Taken Seriously? throws out the thought that Christians don't offer many 'positive' thoughts on 'how to have a good marriage'.

So, as an egalitarian - someone who believes men and women are equal - I have a few simple but related thoughts:  

1) Never take your spouse for granted.

2) Ask yourself every day 'What can I do to make my spouse's life easier today?' Or 'What can I do to bring joy to my spouse?'

3) Never forget to say 'Thank you'. Say 'thank you' when she takes out the rubbish and say 'thank you' when he does the washing-up. You may think that s/he 'should' do these things, but say 'thank you' anyway.

What's my theological basis for this? Agape love. A love that looks first outside oneself and asks the question 'How can I serve another'? Or as the old-fashioned language used to say 'Self-sacrificial love'. This is not only the basis for marriage, it's the basis for Christian discipleship.

Many Christians say that these ideas are unbiblical and that husbands have authority over wives. I'm still trying to understand how agape love is unbiblical.  I know from experience that this sort of attitude 
does work as a path to a loving marriage.  I also know that I'd be very wary of marrying any man who insisted on retaining the option of always having 'final authority' over me. 


Blue, with a hint of amber said...

Who would say that saying thank you, trying to bring joy to a spouse or not taking each other for granted is not a biblical thing to do? I have never heard that said.

No-one can claim to believe in headship if they do not embrace: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her".

Headship is self-sacrificial, as Christ's love for his church is. It cost him everything. And Headship will cost the husband everything if he takes it seriously. Anything he does, says or thinks needs to be analysed against his responsibility to best serve his wife.

Any man who does not do that is no complimentarian in a biblical sense.

PamBG said...


Complementarians tell me that egalitarianism is unbiblical. *I* can't figure out why it's unbiblical either.

I'm simply trying to say that I think - from 16 years' experience - that egalitarian marriages can work. This is how. Having respect and consideration for one's spouse isn't really rocket science.

Or would you argue that I'm 'really' being complementarian?

Blue, with a hint of amber said...

I don't think any marriage is doomed to failure on the basis of a theological construct.

I don't wish ill on church movements that don't hold a complimentarian position, far from it, I pray for their blessing in Christ and multiplication of their witness.

I don't see how any of the 3 points you mentioned are either "egalitarian" or "complimentarian" - they just look like very positive steps for a very happy and affirming marriage.

I disagree with a paedobaptist about baptism but I don't think that their faith or ministry is invalid.

I disagree with a cessationalist about gifts of the spirit today but I don't think that their faith or witness is invalid.

And I have a lot more in common with you than I have with some chauvinist pig hiding behind complimentarian theology to abuse or control a woman.

I actually think that the people involved shape a marriage far more than their presuppositions - and in fact, the true working out of an egalitarian or complmentarian position is so utterly selfless and loving that no-one loses out.

Anything that hinders that goal, be it aggressive chauvinism or feminism is totally away from God's heart.

PamBG said...


Let me try to frame the intention of this post.

Someone said, 'No one is talking about how to have a good marriage.' This is my small stab at it.

This post does not have as it's primary purpose a critique of complementarians.

I do not think that complementarians are 'chauvinist pigs' if that's your projection of my viewpoint.

Blue, with a hint of amber said...

I agree with your suggestions of things that help towards a happy marriage.

From different angles - the working out is almost identical.

PamBG said...

If the working out is the same, then isn't the whole complimentarian / egalitarian argument a big waste of time in practical terms?

Blue, with a hint of amber said...

Not far off, except for the way it rebounds into one's ecclesiology which is where differences become apparent again.

But personally I see a true representation of comps / egals aiming for:

1) The complete betterment of the other partner taking priority

2) Sacrificial love for each other

3) Selfless protection of the other partner

4) Mutual trust in whatever roles are decided / agreed

5) Any roles are voluntary and decided in an environment of trust and respect.

Because only those marriages that display real selfless love can have any claim to be "biblical", even loosely. The bible would not tolerate sin of any sort - so any abuse or control, emotional manipulation or subjugation is out of the question.

I think the comp. position is the most abused - but I still think it holds the most water theologically as I see it. That is why I would strenuously defend the position but be intensely outspoken against abuses of it from those claiming to hold it.

PamBG said...

I think the comp. position is the most abused - but I still think it holds the most water theologically as I see it. That is why I would strenuously defend the position but be intensely outspoken against abuses of it from those claiming to hold it.

Well, I certainly appreciate a 'intense outspokenness against abuse'.

Yes, ecclesiology is a point of disagreement. I think the church also is to function in the way you outline in your last comment, which obviates any need for 'headship'. The church needs accountable oversight systems. It does not need gender headship.

As to the complementarian approach being 'misrepresented', I have never heard anyone in the Methodist Church discussing complementarianism. It's not on our radar screen at all and most Methodists haven't even heard of it. In the UK, the main groups making an issue of it - as far as I'm aware - are New Frontiers and those under the influence of 'Sydney Anglicanism'.

Blue, with a hint of amber said...

"I think the church also is to function in the way you outline in your last comment, which obviates any need for 'headship'."

Unless "headship" is the method through which God planned to bring these things into being - which complimentarians would claim it to be.

But then again - headship means lots of things to lots of people. What is it and who gets it? How do you get it and why?

You are a pastor - do you feel you exercise "headship" over people?

Is that because of your job title or because people voluntarily give it to you?

PS: am loving the opportunity to discuss these things openly and engage with different views and ideas. I am trying to work out both the full extension of what I believe alongside the pitfalls in practise and the way it sounds to other people. It is helpful, and sorry if I come across as awkward sometimes.

PamBG said...

British Methodism is not a confessional denomination (whether one thinks that is a good thing or a bad thing is, I think, a different discussion).

What I exercise as a presbyter is 'order', much of which is not theological and some of which is. I'm responsible for taking certain action, for instance, if i believe that a child or a vulnerable adult is being abused. And the church has systems and people with professional experience to help me in this area which encompasses church order, the law, pastoral issues and theological ones. So that is the official bit. The 'power' that the church gives me.

The other way that I 'influence things' (I'd strenuously avoid 'exercise headship') is by people allowing me to influence their thinking. As with any organisation, it would be naive to think that the title has no bearing on this.

The church council has the final say in most matters in Methodism although the minister has some veto powers. However, in pragmatic terms, you can't run a volunteer organisation by running roughshod over people. Any good and wise leader needs to get people alongside if you're going to achieve any visions. By way of an aside, some parts of Methodism have a very long history of being anti-clerical, so 'being the minister' is a double-edged sword.

I have no idea if this answers your question? I don't think that my ability to lead has got anything to do with my gender.

The denomination in which I grew up in the States would label me as sinful and under the influence of Satan for even thinking that I was called to ministry. (That's the official theology, anyway.) I realise that it sounds like I'm 'trying to be pious' when I say the following but over and over in ministry a person is confronted with the reality that it's really impossible to do this 'job' without being carried by God.

Blue, with a hint of amber said...

That is a really useful post and shows me how clear differences in ecclesiology also help to shape the viewpoint.

One church's view of

1) Church
2) Leadership
3) Church Government

Is so diverse from others that the rest spirals out until we're talking about very different things.

To get to how newfrontiers defines as an "elder" there are certain theological and ecclesiological premises that differ so widely from what you describe that we really are talking about different things.

The Church council, democratic voting, one minister and the authority of the denominational structure are all foreign ideas to me, for a start!

PamBG said...


I have to confess that I don't understand NF ecclesiology.

From some of the things you've said in our conversations, I also suspect that there is a communications disconnect that has something to do with NF being a restorationist Church.

So how does NF operate and how does NF's exercising of 'headship' bring your five points into being in a way that it - I presume? - believes that egalitarianism cannot do? From my own experience, it seems to me patently obvious that egalitarianism can and does bring these things about.

To be somewhat pedantic, Methodism considers itself 'connectional' (we spell it the old way 'connexional'). Strictly speaking, it's not majority democracy but the recognition that we are all connected to each other. In an ideal world, it's bottom-up as well as top-down. In practice, most Methodist congregations have a pseudo-congregational approach. Technically the minister does have powers of veto.

Blue, with a hint of amber said...

I don't see it as a case of what other ways of thinking cannot do, but rather how we understand scripture laying out a methodology for doing it, if that makes sense.

Take baptism in the holy spirit. That is a key newfrontiers distinctive - something we really do believe in. Now other charismatics believe you receive everything at the time of conversion which then needs to be fanned into flame as it were. We believe from scripture we see a second (although can be simultaneous)experience of the holy spirit beyond just conversion.

Now I do believe that other charismatics have exactly the same heart for God as me, looking for his spirit to empower their lives and witness. But their methodology coming from their understanding of scripture is different, even though we end up in remarkably similar places.

Newfrontiers holds a believer's baptism position. That is not to say we have the right to go throwing stones at paedobaptists - but we don't see it that way from sripture, whatsoever, so many newfrontiers churches require believer's baptism as a prerequisite for membership.

I don't believe a paedobaptist who has been confirmed and has made a genuine response to God is any more or less a christian than me, but I do see a pattern in scripture that means I can't hold that position myself as I think God's plan is different.

Local groups of believers come together, out of them men are appointed to lead as elders, in team ministry, to serve the people by taking on the responsibility of spiritual headship for them, just as men take spiritual headship for their own family, so it is with the church family. Ephesians 4 ministries come to equip a strenghten the local body of believers.

"Authority" is not demanded from above as it were, but is volunteered from all others. Men are not appointed because they are men but because they are gifted and set apart by the people for that purpose from amongst the people. Women are encouraged to flourish into the fullness of what God has gifted them for.

Creation defines the model of the family which defines the model of the church family, which is why the New Testament always refers to creation on key matters of marriage, family and church leadership. What you or I believe about the purpose and nature of the created order shapes everything, it all hangs on that one thing, not whether women can or can't do soemthing or whether egalitarians can't do something.

If our church decided tomorrow we were no longer newfrontiers then we just take the logo off the website, make a few phonecalls and that is it. We're an independant local church united with others through friendship, shared vision and values and receiving of Ephesians 4 ministries. We have oversight from outside because we ask for it.

I know that is a really incomplete description, just a few ideas really to highlight we're coming at it from a different direction.

PamBG said...

BWAHA. I understand that you are saying that 'we're coming from a different direction.' I agree.

It's just that you are throwing around ideas and concepts that I'm not even familiar with.

I know what Ephesians 4 says, but I don't know what you mean by the concept of 'Ephesians 4 ministries'. I'd argue that Methodism advocates adhering to the exhortations in Ephesians 4 but I suspect that's not what the phrase 'Ephesians 4 ministry' means.

What does 'spiritual headship' consist of? What does it look like in Real Life? What are it's consequences? How is it better than the corporate prayerful discernment of the church?

Why is the 'created order' stuff so important and why is the 'family' stuff so important? (It's not to imply that traditional churches don't think family is important but complementarianism seems to me to worship the family and how it functions just below God.)

I apologise if any of this seems offensive. I've tried to identify what are to me 'foreign' theological concepts. You are using theological terms and concepts that are not part of my frame of reference.

For me, it has been helpful to understand that the models, pictures and concepts we are using seem to be very different.

Blue, with a hint of amber said...

I apologise for throwing around concepts without explaining them - it is not deliberate. I will try to explain as you point them out!

Within our movement of churches there are people who within loical congregations have been recognised as having a specific gift that is beneficial to use beyond just their local church setting.

So for example - relationships between churches are not based upon geography directly (although obviously this helps), but rather through relationships. So one church decides they want someone to help shape their vision then will ask, normally the leader of another church to work in an apostolic sense with them. Not "Apostle" the noun as such, but apostle in terms of fulfilling an apostolic role as in Ephesians 4 in terms of encouragement, shaping, vision, accountability etc.

With a Church planting movement you get churches which have been planted out of the sending church, and the sending church almost always remains in apostolic relationship with the daughter Church.

So take one newfrontiers pastor - he helped set up a church in one place. That church then planted churches into two other places and he looked after them. Then he moved to another place and continued to look after the 3 churches he left behind. Now he is planting a Church in another place and his oversight extends to 5 churches, because of the friendship and relationship he has with people in those Churches.

Within the movement there are "evangelists" who are people with a track record of equipping people to witness within their local churches and encouraging evangelistic endeavour. These will then work with other churches within the region to equip people with local responsibility in their churches and encourage mission.

All these roles are voluntary - not imposed. Although because they are a key value it goes without saying that they would be wanted, because we all see those roles as being for the benefit of a church movement as in the NT so we want to develop a culture which replicates that environment as best we can.

This explanation is not meant to be fully comprehensive - but rather a few examples of how it works on the ground.

Blue, with a hint of amber said...

"Why is the 'created order' stuff so important and why is the 'family' stuff so important? (It's not to imply that traditional churches don't think family is important but complementarianism seems to me to worship the family and how it functions just below God.)"

I don't that would ever be the intention or practice, to worship the family - but it is a useful insight of how it comes across, however uncomfortable to hear!

I have never heard family worshiped highly or anything like that - and there are many single men and women functioning in leadership positions within the Church I go to, including those unmarried and those divorced.

I think the "restorationist" heart of newfrontiers, that is linked to an underlying reformed theology, and charismatic position, sees two key institutions laid down in scripture by God, church, and marriage.

One is laid down in creation, one is laid down following the ascension but with references to creation. The ordering of marriage and the church is seen as consistent, as part of God's consistent plan for mankind, and gender roles are part of that as they were part of creation (in the comp. view).

The family of God, and the nuclear family are the two institutions given by God for the care and growth and multiplication of his people.

Which I why I said anyone's view of the created order is so utterly vital because everything spins off from that.

So someone coming at it from the perpective of the roles coming after the fall is going to want to "restore" the pattern away from the roles which they see as a product of the fall - whereas those seeing the roles in place before the fall but then confused and damaged by the fall want to see them restored to their fullness, rather than do away with them.

We all want to see a genuine response to what we see scripture asking for, but we just have different views of what that actually means, totally opposing views in fact that makes us uneasy that the other one is making things worse not better, which is why it becomes such an emotive issue.

PamBG said...

BWAHOA: Thank you for those two posts. It's hard to know how to respond to them.

To the first post: It's interesting to me to learn how NF works. How does this use and skills play out with the complementarianism? For instance, is it wrong to presume that women gifted in pastoring and church-planting are not allowed to do so because the new church would contain men in it? Or is that my prejudice?

To the second post: I guess what's interesting here is that my 'vision' is much more about The Kingdom of God than a vision that 'God gave us family and church and if we only learn how to function within them properly, everything will be godly'.

With respect to complementarianism, I guess I still can't get over the fact that: a) I believe the bible witnesses not only to female leaders but also to Jesus having a radically inclusive stance toward women vis-a-vis his own culture; and b) My experience (a permissible theological tool in Methodism) suggests to me that roles and spiritual gifts are not gender-specific.

We're getting into so many areas now, I feel that they would require several different essays!

Blue, with a hint of amber said...

Worth adding, although it is patently obvious, that I am speaking on behalf of myself not on behalf of anyone else - other newfrontiers churches may see it differently, just like different methodists may!

Everything is done in teams anyway, from church planting to pastoral ministry. Women would be fully involved in any ministry, but within the framework of a team of male elders, just as every christian NT woman was (says tongue in firmly cheek!).

I think we need to journey a bit more into your vision of the "kingdom" as that would help me see where you are coming from also.

I think the ecclesiology of newfrontiers would place a massively high priority on the local church as the missionary agency of God to express his kingdom here on earth.

New testament christianity was based in and around local church situations.

The missionary endeavour saw evangelism, followed by training (discipleship) of new believers, followed by the appointment of elders to look after the new congregations, followed by further mission. The church was a self replicating, growing community expressing the kingdom in its local situation through work amongst the poor, prayer for healing etc and extending the kingom of God through seeking to start new churches in new places.

Working back through this discussion means I would finally add the following:

- I don't doubt for a second that you are gifted by God to do what you do.

- I don't doubt the validity of your ministry and that God works through you.

- I don't know if your role is that of an "elder" as I understand it because the everything about the ecclesiology within Methodism is starting from different places. There are many women in newfrontiers churches fully engaged in or even co-ordinating the pastoral ministry of the church, working within the framework described.

- My ecclesiology differs so widely from yours that I assume the first issue we would bump into would be believer's baptism before we got anywhere near gender!

But I am really appreciating the opportunity to discuss these things.

PamBG said...


I'm enjoying the discussion too. I'm well aware that I'd need to set out a vision of the Kingdom of God. Not sure if I have the time or the energy to do that right now. (I was ill last week, so more time at the computer!). I'd refer you to NT Wright's book 'Surprised by Hope' as a good starting point for what I believe about the Kingdom of God.

I guess one thing that astounds me is your apparent certainty about what the church in the NT looked like and how it functioned. I find nothing to disagree with particularly as being egregiously in error other than your apparent certainty. I don't think we actually know as much as you suggest.

I also don't see your emphasis on 'teams' as being as different from Methodism as you seem to think that it is.

In the context of both Methodism and how you are characterizing NF, I don't even see the point of having a concept of 'headship'. People work together and those with gifts use them for the glory of God.

In the system I grew up in (Lutheran male headship), it was a 'command structure'. People worked together but they did what the pastor told them. The pastor had total oversight over everything, particularly teaching. No one was allowed to teach except the pastor. (So no house groups, etc.) In that kind of structure, I can see the point of headship.

In my structure - and in the way you are characterising the way NF works - I don't really see the point of it. Can you clarify what 'headship' means to you? Or to NF?

Blue, with a hint of amber said...

This is just me chucking out a few thoughts - this is not some integrated theological defence of headship:

I suppose I would look at "responsibility for" and "on behalf of" as good phrases rather than "authority over" which implies a lack of unity, consultation, and voluntary response.

So headship is a final responsibility for, and on behalf of, those voluntarily receiving it.

So if there is an issue in church that needs resolving the elders have the final responsibility to ensure that happens, or for the direction of the teaching programme and the vision of the church.

If there is a false prophecy the elders are responsible for ironing it out, or false teaching, or if it is a church discipline issue such as sexual immorality within the church. Loads of stuff in Timothy and Titus explain it a bit more fully, as does Paul's notes for worship in Corinthians etc.

The people with the final responsibility to enact the sacriments properly (baptism and communion) - although that doesn't mean only we do communion or go in the pool, in fact, we rarely do. But to ensure they are done "in order" and according to scripture.

The final responsibility to care for the sick, to encourage and exhort people, to challenge people.

Many of these things are for everyone to do - but there is a sense of final responsibility or overarching care seen in "headship" as I understand it.

I don't see it as heirarchy in some modernist sense of flow charts and organisations - but the Rabbis of Jesus day had their "followers" and their "disciples" who looked to them for spiritual guidance. Those followers were all equal before God but followed their leader. In that sense John the Baptist exercised levels of "headship" with his disciples - as did Jesus with his, as he does now with the Church that grew from his discples.

The apostle Paul speaks into the life of churches he was part of and churches he was apostle to with a sense of final responsibility for their welfare.

I take your point about coming across as having too much certainty about the workings of the NT church and I don't mean that to be misunderstood. I think we do see a lot of what they did and how they did it and are trying to replicate that (in terms of the positives, avoiding the mistakes) as God gives us the grace to do so. I find the organic, relational structure of the church and the oversight of the church in the NT to be a really positive thing to engage with and try to make a reality.

PamBG said...


What you are calling 'headship', Methodists would call 'oversight'. Those are the responsibilities of the minister.

The way that you are describing your beliefs, I still don't see how it boils down to much more than 'Women have the ability to do these things but must not.'

Certainly individual women - as much as individual men - can study theology, exercise spiritual discernment and make sure that the church's practices are in good order. I know that the denomination of my birth would trip me up with the Catch-22 of saying 'Except that if you believe women may do these things, then you are lacking spiritual wisdom and lacking obedience to God so you are obviously unqualified.'

You claim to have - and give me the impression of having - respect for women in all these areas. Therefore complementarianism seems to me to be something like a dry rule or a rule without teeth.

To me, if complementarianism has 'teeth', then it is counter to how I see the Gospel. If it has no 'teeth' and women are genuinely treated as equals, then I don't understand the point in holding the idea. I'm sorry, but I genuinely don't understand; I'm not trying to 'score points'.

I'm not sure how much further we get in our conversation?

Blue, with a hint of amber said...

No, I think it has run its course too. I am still working through what I believe and am definitely in the "soft comp." category!

But this has been very insightful and I appreciate it.

It has really helped me see how the very wording of statements and the tone used by proponents of either viewpoint can be damaging to people "on the ground".

I see the complimentarian position as part of a wonderful priviledge of entering into the fullness of God's creation purpose.

I can also see how holders of the egalitarian position see themselves as having the wonderful priviledge of entering into the fullness of God's creation purpose!

Hence it all depends on what you believe about God's creation purpose, which is a technical discussion about Genesis 1-3.

PamBG said...

Yes, it's been an interesting discussion, thank you.

What I've found informative is that I suspect that we have very different 'pictures' - dare I say metanarratives - about what the Christian walk consists of.

I would certainly not see Genesis 1-3 as intended to be an outline of specific information about God's purposes for human life. Whereas 'God's creative purposes' seems to have particular importance for you. As you have guessed, what is of central importance to me is the teaching-crucifixion-resurrection-ascension of Jesus as a lens through which I read the rest of scripture.

Anyway, thank you for the discussion. (Feel free to continue commenting if you have anything else to say.)

Blue, with a hint of amber said...

"As you have guessed, what is of central importance to me is the teaching-crucifixion-resurrection-ascension of Jesus as a lens through which I read the rest of scripture."

I would also say the same.

I maybe hear perhaps one sermon every two years on creation, but hear the life of Christ and his work on the cross preached what seems like nearly every week!

But now we are getting on to the second Adam whose bride is the Church of which he is the head, so I think I will leave it right there!!!